What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name, Craig Hodges? Is it that he was a back-to-back-to-back NBA All-Star Three-Point Contest winner? Or do you maybe associate him with Michael Jordan and Bulls‘ first two NBA championships in ’91 and ’92? Well, perhaps you should put all that aside. Perhaps you should remember him by his political activism.
Hodges had a fair share of involvement with social issues. From the time he approached Jordan and Magic to suggest a boycott of a Finals game in ’91 to stand in solidarity with the black community, to the time he visited the White House in ’92 as the NBA champ dressed in a dashiki, delivering a handwritten letter to George H. W. Bush about the treatment of the poor and minorities.
He may have even been too involved, as there is a belief the league blackballed him because of his political activism. After he had won his second NBA title, Hodges got a call from Bulls’ GM Jerry Krause.
“He said thanks for looking after the younger guys on the team like I was a damn babysitter. Then he said, ‘We’re gonna have to let you go.‘ ”Craig Hodges – Long Shot: The Struggles and Triumphs of an NBA Freedom Fighter.
Just like that, Hodges’ 10-year NBA career was over, he never stepped foot on NBA hardwoods again. Hodges joined the Lakers in 2005 as the team’s special assistant coach under Phil Jackson and had worked individually with players. His journey as the NBA staff guy ended after Jackson retired in 2011.
Hodges believed he was blackballed by the NBA. He went to the extent of filing a $40 million lawsuit against the NBA and its then 29 teams in 1996. Hodges sued the league on the grounds of the owners and operators participating as co-conspirators in blackballing because of his outspoken political nature as an African-American man.
The lawsuit alleged that the league was embarrassed by Hodges’ White House visit and that his work to curb “the breakdown of the African-American family” with former minister and political activist Louis Farrakhan was seen as hostile towards the NBA. The lawsuit also cited the league perceived Hodges’ public criticism of African-American athletes for their lack of help to the poor and disenfranchised to be inimical.
In the lawsuit, the director of player personnel for the SuperSonics Billy McKinney was mentioned as the one who showed interest in Hodges in 1992, only to back away shortly after, telling him he could do nothing because “brothers have a family if you know what I mean.”
Bulls official offered a different explanation, saying Hodges was waived for being too old and being a defensive liability. Still, Phil Jackson wasn’t buying it, as he thought it was weird no one gave Craig a shot.
“I also found it strange that not a single team called to inquire about him. Usually, I get at least one call about a player we’ve decided not to sign. And yes, he couldn’t play much defense, but a lot of guys in the league can’t, but not many can shoot from his range, either.”Phil Jackson, NY Times
Within a year of filing the lawsuit, the case had been dismissed by a federal judge. The reason for it was of technical nature, as it was ruled that the statute of limitations for a racial discrimination case is only two years. Hodges filed his case four years after the Bulls dropped him. Unfortunately for him, two years too late.
Despite the lawsuit being dismissed, it seems like there was something to it. In his last two seasons in the league, Hodges played in 129 regular-season games and averaged 4.7 points in 10.8 minutes per game. It doesn’t sound irreplaceable.
But I’m having trouble believing that there wasn’t a place in the league for him. He was one of the league’s best sharpshooters and a player with a championship pedigree. He shot way above league average from downtown in his last two years with the Bulls.
Hodges wasn’t a starting-caliber player but was a perfect veteran roster filler. Think Jared Dudley, for instance, but even a bigger contributor in terms of on the court stuff. So if Dudley can get a contract, it’s hard to believe that no one wanted to offer Hodges one.
It’s a slippery slope, to say the least, but the theory has some merit to it. NBA encourages activism, but Hodges may have been too much for them. And that may have been teams’ taught process; this guy won’t bring us much on the court, but who knows what he will do off the court. They may have taught he wasn’t worth the trouble.
If this is indeed true, it’s a bad precedent for today’s players. Political and social issues should be on their to-do lists, and they should be continuously spurred by the league to do so. Hopefully, Hodges didn’t have to pay for his social involvement. Hopefully, it was just about his bad defense.